Perhaps the biggest change that is required is how cyber security is viewed. It should not be looked at as a problem, but rather as a risk that needs to be managed. Having a set of standards and good practices in place can contribute towards making that shift.
Cyber Threats are getting more prominent, clever, and intense amidst the rise in remote working and the everyday dependence on connected devices is only aggravating the risks. Of course, connected devices are here to stay for a long time. So, the right way to look at Cyber Threats is by acknowledging that they will remain a part of the system and that we will have to adapt accordingly to keep our digital assets secure.
Learn about Cyber Security and how you can protect your digital assets.
What are Cyber Threats?
The term, ‘cyber’, in the 1950s used to refer to cybernetics, which involves the science of understanding the control and movement of machines and animals. Later on, it was used to refer to something computerized. With the start of the 90s, ‘cyberspace’ became a popular term that referred to a physical space that was believed to exist behind the electronic activities of computing devices. It was coined to set the online world as a distinct space. Nowadays, everyone likes to think of it as the global network of interdependent IT infrastructures.
A Cyber Threat or a Cyber Security Threat is a malicious act performed by hackers to intentionally steal data or other assets, misuse them, or simply cause disruption in digital life in general. Cyber Threats can come from remote locations by unknown parties or even within an organization by trusted users. While many cyberattacks are intended to be nuisances, some are actually quite serious, and can even potentially harm human lives.
Types of Cyber Security Threats
Cyber threats can be classified into three broad categories of intent.
- Disruption espionage
- Corporate espionage (theft of patents)
- State espionage
Every Cyber Threat falls into one of the above three categories. Some common cyber security threats are:
Malware is software that performs malicious actions on a device or network such as data corruption or taking over a system. Malware makes its way into the system through a malicious link or email that a user clicks. Once malware is in the system, it can block access to critical components of your network, gather sensitive data, and damage the system.
Spyware is a form of malware that stays concealed on a device and transmits real-time data like bank details and passwords covertly to its host.
When a hacker attempts to bait individuals into disclosing critical information such as personally identifiable information (PII), banking details, and passwords, it is known as phishing. An email can trick the email recipient into providing confidential information or downloading malware into the system by clicking on a hyperlink in the email.
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Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS)
DDoS attacks are aimed to disrupt a computer network by overwhelming the servers and requests. The network gets flooded with superfluous requests from hundreds or thousands of IP addresses that overload the system and keep the legitimate requests from being fulfilled. It causes the target system, like a website, to crash from an overload of demands.
As the name suggests, ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to a system or data until a ransom is paid. The attack involves data encryption on the target system that renders all the files inaccessible and demands a monetary ransom to give back access to the owner again. These attacks can be low-level nuisances or even have damaging consequences.
A zero-day exploit is a cyber attack that happens the same day a flaw occurs in software, hardware, or firmware. Because the software flaw is recent, it is hard to put up a protection system in place immediately.
Advanced persistent threats (APTs)
An advanced persistent threat refers to an unauthorized user gaining access to a system or network and remaining there without being detected for a long period of time.
Named after the Trojan Horse of ancient Greek history, this type of malware or code initially acts as a legitimate standard application or file and tricks one into loading and executing the malware on their device. Once inside the host system, the trojan lets out the malicious code that has the potential to damage, steal data, or inflict some other harmful activity on a network.
A wiper attack is a type of malware that intends to wipe out the hard drive of the computer it infects. It involves wiping, overwriting, or removing data from the victim. These kinds of attacks are mainly destructive in nature and often do not involve a ransom. Sometimes, they are used to cover the tracks of separate data theft that is occurring. Wiper attacks aren’t covert for the most part as it is not meant to linger quietly in the background.
Intellectual property theft
Intellectual property theft is stealing or using someone else’s intellectual property without permission.
Man-in-the-middle attack (MITM attack)
A MITM attack is when an attacker inserts himself in the middle of a communication between two parties like a user and an application and attempts to steal information. Attackers can eavesdrop or impersonate one of the parties, making it appear as if a normal exchange of information is underway.
A drive-by download attack is a download that happens without a person’s knowledge, often installing a malicious program like spyware, malware, or virus. The download can happen in two ways:
- Downloads that happened after the authorization given by a user but without understanding the consequences, such as downloads that install an unknown or counterfeit executable program
- Downloads that happens without the knowledge of the person, like a computer virus, spyware, malware, or crimeware
Malvertising, or otherwise referred to as malware advertising, is the online advertisements that spread malware and compromise systems. Generally, this happens through the injection of malicious code into ads.
Rogue Security Software
Rogue security software is a malware and internet fraud that is disguised as real software and tricks users into believing that their computer has a virus. It convinces the users to pay for a fake malware removal tool that instead installs malware on their computer.
Sometimes, natural disasters can disrupt the data centre that software is housed in.
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Sources of Cyber Threats
Cyber threats can arise from a variety of sources. To effectively protect against cyberattacks, it’s essential to understand threat actors and their intentions. Following are some of the sources of Cyber threats:
Hackers: Hackers use various tactics and techniques to exploit vulnerabilities and attempt security breaches in a computer system or network. They are mainly driven by personal gain, financial gain, political activism, and sometimes, even revenge and stalking. Hackers are capable of developing new threats for the thrill of the challenge or for the bragging rights they can have in the hacker community.
Nation-states: Cyber attacks by nation-states devote a surprising amount of time and resources to gain an upper hand in favor of national interests, gathering intelligence, and espionage, theft, and disruption for military strength. Attacks against software supply chains and attempts to obtain IP data on vaccines just demonstrate the lengths to which they go to achieve their strategic goals. A very recent study sponsored by HP Inc. found that some governments use tactics used by organized criminals in cyberspace.
Criminal Groups: Criminal groups mainly intend to infiltrate systems or networks for the sake of financial gain. They resort to phishing, spyware, spam, and malware to various thefts, frauds, and extortions.
Terrorist Groups: Terrorists seek to threaten national security, disrupt the economy, compromise military equipment, or cause mass casualties by destroying, infiltrating, or exploiting critical infrastructure through cyber attacks.
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Malicious Insiders: Insiders may be employees, contractors, other business associates, or third-party vendors who have legitimate access to the assets of an organization but misuse it for financial or personal gain.
In some nations, the boundary between national intelligence and criminal organizations is blurred. Oftentimes, criminals do the actual work of cyber espionage. Apart from this, many cyber threats are bought and sold on the ‘dark web’, a growing underground marketplace widespread and a hotspot for criminals. Here, hackers deal in or make transactions in ransomware, malware, credentials for breached systems, and many other underground criminal activities.
Emerging Cyber Threats
The digital world is always evolving and so are the Cyber Security Threats. One should pay close attention to these new threats in Cyber Security as well to be aware and to put up a better fight against these situations.
Since 2020, the biggest challenge for business and IT organizations has been the pandemic. During this time, the number of Cyber Threats has increased and the threats, themselves, have grown more sophisticated. Cybercriminals will probably continue to use the pandemic situation as a driving force for phishing and social engineering campaigns. Moreover, with the workforce around the world moving their work online and working from home, it has introduced numerous unsecured entry points for hackers to target.
As companies are migrating to the cloud to assure business continuity through remote working, cybercriminals are targeting the cloud more frequently. Cloud-based security risks include cloud misfigurations, vulnerable cloud-apps, and incomplete data deletion, and are the most common sources of cyberattacks.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices and applications have been increasingly deployed by big organizations around the world. This enhanced connectivity, however, brings with it, a new set of security challenges putting them at risk. Cybercriminals can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain control of devices and penetrate networks.
Why is it necessary to protect from Cyber Threats?
Cyber Security risks are present in every organization and not always under the direct monitoring and control of the IT security teams. Increasing connectivity (IoT), the rising adoption of cloud technology and services, as well as outsourcing mean larger cyber security threat vectors compared to the past.
Third-party and fourth-party risks are also on the rise, making cyber security risk management, vendor risk management, and third-party risk management all the more crucial for reducing the risk of data breaches by third-parties.
On top of that, business leaders unintentionally make risk-inducing decisions every day. Information security cannot be the responsibility of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) alone and must be an organizational-wide initiative. These are the reasons why Cyber Security is important.
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Best Practices for Cyber Protection
Cyberattacks are evolving as a major threat to businesses as well as individuals. Hence, it has become a necessary step to build a strong cybersecurity system to protect the devices, systems, networks, and computers. However, it is always up to individuals and organizations to make the right cyber-defense decisions. Below are some of the highly recommended common practices for cyber protection:
- Two-factor authentication (2FA): It refers to an additional layer of security where the user is asked a series of questions. 2FA ensures that the user trying to gain access to the system is actually the one who they are claiming to be. Sometimes, this may also include the biometric pattern of a fingerprint, an iris scan, etc.
- Installing antivirus programs: They are software installed in systems and are typically designed for identifying and treating malware such as viruses, computer worms, spyware, keyloggers, etc. Getting the most out of antivirus programs is possible through their regular update.
- Firewall: Installing a firewall is proven to have defied major cyberattacks. Firewalls block brute force attacks meant for the computer system before they can damage the network or files.
- Internet security suite: It is usually referred to as a collection of utilities that involve the benefits of antivirus programs as well as firewalls. Through a single control panel, the suite allows users to perform multiple cyber defense activities. Where antivirus programs only warn about harmful websites, the internet security suite directly blocks the URL, making it a better option.
- Endpoint protection: There are networks that are remotely bridged to devices. Laptops, computers, and mobile devices are connected to corporate networks paving the way for security threats. Such paths need endpoint protection software.
- Identity theft protection: To combat phishing, antivirus solutions with identity theft protection are considered as a prompt identification of any kind of phishing attack. Some of the steps that individuals can take to prevent identity theft can be regular checking of credit reports, monitoring A/C statements, report missing bills, ignoring spam emails, etc.
- Cyber Incident Response Plan (CSIRP): Irrespective of their size, all organizations must have an effective CSIRP in place to combat cyberattacks, prepare for any unforeseen theft, and recover at the earliest from a cyberattack. A CSIRP is also one of the preferred cyber defense practices as it allows users or organizations to prioritize operations and security incidents.
- Creating backups: There is no guarantee that the attackers will return the stolen data even after paying the ransom. Hence, it is always advisable to create data backup to mitigate the loss from cyberattacks.
- Training: It is advisable to train the staff of the organization to thoroughly check the links and email addresses before clicking on them. Keeping the employees informed about cybersecurity threats, modes, and precautions by conducting training sessions has become crucial nowadays.
- Securing sites with HTTPS: Encryption and securing of the website must be done with HTTPS as this ensures the protection of the integrity and confidentiality of the website and user-linked data.
Cyber Defense for Businesses
Cyber defense in business includes basic but effective countermeasures like system patching. Whenever there is a security flaw in a product, the tech vendor, generally, writes code that fixes or ‘patches’ the issue and distributes the patch to all the owners of the product. This is commonly done at least once a month. Many attacks become unsuccessful when IT departments deploy security patches on a timely basis.
Several new technologies and services have been introduced in the market that makes it easier to have a robust defense in place against Cyber Threats. These include:
- Continual attack simulation tools
- Outsourced security services
- Systems that facilitate collaboration between security team members
- Anti-phishing and secure browsing point solutions
Cyber Defense for Individuals
The best practices for individuals aren’t too complicated or extensive. There are preventative measures that can help ensure the safety of information:
- Password hygiene – Even big security organizations will not be able to protect consumers against phishing or hackers if the passwords are obvious and easy. A little cautiousness and password hygiene can help consumers protect their systems, networks, and their accounts from cyber threats.
- Anti-virus software – Anti-virus software subscriptions can keep a lot of harmful viruses and threats at bay. Regular updates and automated, scheduled scans can keep systems in check and protected at all times.
- Preventing phishing attacks – Users should be careful when opening any file attachments from unknown senders. It is best to not open emails from unknown sources to avoid phishing and spear phishing. These emails could also pose to be legitimate emails. So, it is always important to be absolutely sure.
Cyber Threats can be scary for all enterprises and consumers because these threats do exist and have the potential to cause great harm. These Cyber threats are only getting increasingly potent and recurrent with time. So, it is everybody’s cautiousness and awareness of such threats that can help defend and protect against them.
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